iBrain could help Stephen Hawking speak again by reading his mind

Researchers are trying to help Stephen Hawking communicate more effectively again -- with an ambitious new device that reads his mind.

The world-renowned physicist, who suffers from Lou Gherig’s disease, has seen his ability to communicate deteriorate over the years as he further loses the ability to control his body. Currently, Hawking “speaks” through special glasses that pick up slight twitches in his cheek, a slow, arduous, and tiresome process that can often take several minutes to generate a short message.

But now, a team led by Philip Low, a 32-year-old neuroscientist and chief executive of NeuroVigil, is experimenting with a device that could help Hawking “speak” more freely -- with his mind. The black headband, aptly named iBrain, could eventually allow Hawking to communicate simply by thinking.

The device is part of a new generation of portable brain scanners used to monitor conditions like depression, sleep apnea, and schizophrenia in real-time.

“The iBrain can collect data in real time in a person’s own bed, or when they’re watching TV, or doing just about anything,” Dr. Low told the NYTimes.

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In the case of Hawking, specific algorithms will need to be developed over time as the team analyzes Hawking’s various thought patterns.

“The idea is to see if Stephen can use his mind to create a consistent and repeatable pattern that a computer can translate into, say, a word or letter or a command for a computer,” Low explained.

“Dr. Low and his company have done some outstanding work in this field,” Dr. Hawking said in a statement.

“I am participating in this project in the hope that I can offer insights and practical advice to NeuroVigil. I wish to assist in research, encourage investment in this area, and, most importantly, to offer some future hope to people diagnosed with A.L.S. and other neurodegenerative conditions."

Read more about the iBrain at the NYTimes